Strong Female Characters come in all shapes and sizes. The ‘Strong’ part doesn’t mean strength just in brute force either. For every She-Hulk there is a Kitty Pryde. For every Wonder Woman there is an Oracle. But, for this list, I had to thin out the herd—so it’s strictly the strong ladies you see in the movies or on non-animated TV shows. We’ll start from 30 and work our way back:
30) Cordelia Chase: “I'm not a sniveling, whiny, little cry-Buffy. I'm the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history. I take crap from no one.” She is introduced to us on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the Queen Bee of Sunnydale High, becomes part of The Scoobies—but leaves for LA after graduation. She then meets up with Angel and joins Angel Investigations where she becomes an integral part of the group. It’s on Angel where Cordelia truly shines. She’s still the sassy girl we love, but becomes more human and more caring. She gains vision powers, learns to fight, helps Angel raise his son, starts to have feelings for Angel…then ascends to a higher plane, comes back to have an affair with his son and, well, it’s all downhill from there. But, in her one and only appearance in the final season, she comes out of her mystical coma (ugh, I know) to help Angel and the gang stop evil former lawyer, Lindsey, one last time and to give Angel (and the fans) the kiss he’d been waiting for. Joss Whedon has a knack for writing females with great story arcs (more on that later).
29) Gwen Cooper: “…well, this is about my daughter. And I swear for her sake I will see you killed like a dog right in front of me if it means her back in my arms. Understood?” She basically stumbles upon Torchwood and then becomes one of their most important members (and one of the only ones not to die). I mean, she shoots down a helicopter while holding her baby for fuck’s sake.
28) Jean Grey: “Mutation. It is the key to our evolution…this process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few millennia evolution leaps forward.” Real Talk: the Jean of the movies is nowhere near as powerful and badass as the Jean of the comics. But, well, it’s still pretty badass to sacrifice your life to save the lives of the ones you love. And let’s just ignore everything that happens to her in X-Men: The Last Stand.
27) Donna Noble: “So, this isn't the real me? This isn't my real body? But I've been dieting!” One of the most polarizing Doctor Who companions—but, really, if you hate her…well, you just didn’t watch the show right. One of the only companions who went with The Doctor as a friend and not just to get in his pants. She saves the world and doesn’t even get to remember it. I forever mourn her incredibly unsatisfying ending.
26) Juliet: “If I never meet you, then I never have to lose you.” She started out as the villain you loved to hate. She has a throwdown fight with Kate (another Strong Female Character) in the rain and then…you suddenly realize she’s become not only one of the best characters on Lost, but one of the toughest.
25) Major Kira Nerys: “Second of all, what business is it of yours?” One of the most underrated characters in the Star Trek universe. Most Bajorans are badass (see also: Ensign Ro) but, Kira is not only a badass fighter—she’s also the commanding officer of space station Deep Space 9.
24) Alice: “I became different. Powerful. Unstoppable. As I got stronger, the human race became weaker.” While one could argue that the Resident Evil films have become garbage—and I’d agree—she still fights her way through hordes of zombies and saves (some of) her friends while doing so. She’s like a Vampire Slayer gone Dark Phoenix.
23) Sidney Prescott: “…some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting.” The ultimate Final Girl. She’s survived four Scream movies. They’ve never gone the lame route of having her become institutionalized or go crazy—nor has she come back for one more film only to be killed off (cough Halloween cough).
22) River Tam: “I swallowed a bug.” She’s damaged and superpowered. And, I mean, did you see her kick the crap out of everyone at the end of Serenity?
21) Michonne: “The mat said ‘Welcome.’” A late addition to the show who rarely speaks yet is still one of the most interesting (and toughest) characters on The Walking Dead.
20) Captain Janeway: “Gentlemen, welcome aboard Voyager.” The first leading female captain to star in a Star Trek series. She didn’t take any crap and had to hold her crew together even though they were lost in space for the entire freakin’ series. She fights unknown aliens and The Borg—all with ease and just a hint of sass.
19) Lady Sif: “I'll die a warrior's death! Stories will be told of this day!” Asgard is a total sausage fest—but, Lady Sif is one of the most important members of Thor’s band of warriors. She is a voice of reason and pretty damn good in a fight.
18) Olivia Dunham: “His name is Peter Bishop. He's a high school drop-out, I.Q. at 190, which is 50 points north of genius…sounds like a massive pain in the ass.” A badass, universe jumping cop who doesn’t take shit from teen heartthrob Joshua Jackson or Spock.
17) Zoë Washburne: “Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later.” One of the most important crew members on Serenity. She keeps Mal in check and never gives up the fight—even when her husband has just been murdered and everyone else (aka ME) is very busy crying about it.
16) Sydney Bristow: “Write this down. E.M.E.T.I.B. Got it? Now, reverse it.” Not only is she a skilled fighter—but, during the five seasons of Alias she deals with the death of her fiancé, the death of her best friend, finding out her mother worked for the KGB and a ton of other terrible things.
15) Lana Winters: “I am tough, but I’m no cookie.” American Horror Story might not be the best show on TV (spoiler: it’s definitely not) but Lana Winters is super tough. She’s a journalist who gets stuck in an asylum that’s haunted by a serial killer (who killed her gf), zombies, demons and crazed doctors—not to mention it’s run by some insane nuns. Lana goes through every kind of torture while trapped in that asylum. But, when the nun who trapped Lana in the asylum gets trapped there herself—Lana goes back to save her. And when her estranged serial killer son comes to kill her—she kills him first.
14) Faith: “God, I could eat a horse. Isn't it crazy how slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?” The anti-Buffy. She is introduced as a sex-ed up ansgty teen who may-or-may-not have sexual feelings for Buffy. She goes evil, murders an innocent man, becomes Buffy’s arch-enemy, eventually turns herself in, goes to jail and comes back just in time to help Angel get his soul back on Angel and defeat The First alongside Buffy and the Scoobies on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In case you’re keeping track—Joss Whedon has written a shit ton of the ladies on this list.
13) Veronica Mars: “Sometimes I'm even persnicketier.” Special favorite Vicky Mars (shutup, it’s what I like to call her) doesn’t have any superpowers and isn’t much of a fighter but, BOY, does she make up for that with brainpower and sass. She deals with rape, murder and an addict mother—all while solving mysteries and trying to save the small town of Neptune from becoming completely corrupt.
12) Professor McGonagall: “… his name is Voldemort, so you might as well use it, he's going to try and kill you either way.” Basically one of the only teachers at Hogwarts who never accidentally causes some kind of near death experience for the students. Also, she’s one of the oldest professor’s there and still kicks ass in the Battle of Hogwarts (and survives).
11) Starbuck: “…repeat, do not fire! I am a friendly, okay? We're all friendlies. So, let's just... be friendly.” A hard drinking space pilot with attitude.
10) Arya Stark: “Anyone can be killed.” She’s tough by most standards—but, the fact that she’s a little kid surviving in the Games of Thrones world (you know, where everyone is always dying all the time) makes her all the more badass.
9) Hermoine Granger: “I've always admired your courage Harry, but sometimes you can be really thick.” Hogwarts was a death-trap that Harry and Ron probably wouldn’t have survived if they hadn’t befriended Hermoine so early on. She was the brains and heart of their group.
8) Willow Rosenberg: “We're in love. W-we're lovers. We're lesbian, gay-type lovers.” One of the best developed characters on any Joss Whedon show (and there are a lot of wonderfully developed characters on his shows in case you haven’t been paying attention)—Willow starts off as an often in-trouble sidekick to Buffy and, by the end of the show, is key in Buffy’s plan to saving the world and stopping The First Evil. Willow and Tara also had one of the best developed lesbian relationships to ever grace the small screen.
7) The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo: “Hard part's over. Now let's get these other piggies wiggling.” She kills hundreds of people in the name of revenge. Once a hired assassin, she is betrayed by the man she works for on her wedding day. Her husband is killed and, she is lead to believe, so is her unborn child. She wakes up from her coma looking for revenge—and she gets it.
6) Xena: “You don't want to make me mad now, do ya?” One of TV’s first badass ladies to have her own show (apologies to Linda Carter's Wonder Woman) and her only supporting cast member was her is-she-or-is-she-not-her-gf sidekick, Gabrielle. She was once known as ‘Destroyer of Nations’ but then decided to be good and go around making amends for her past evils. Also, she had that really cool spinning sharp round thing.
5) Black Widow: “Can any of you boys direct me to the Smithsonian? I'm here to pick up a fossil.” She survives an alien invasion, a run-in with a rage fueled Hulk and holds her own in a hand-to-hand fight with the super-soldier enhanced Winter Soldier. To say she is a strong female character is an understatement. This woman needs her own Marvel film stat.
4) Sarah Connor: “Dyson listened while the Terminator laid it all down…it's not everyday you find out that you're responsible for 3 billion deaths. He took it pretty well.” This woman dies and leaves her coffin full of guns in case of an emergency. She fights the future (and kinda fails, depending on how you look at it), fights Terminator killing machines and gives birth in the middle of doing so.
3) Katniss Everdeen: “There's 24 of us Gale, only one comes out.” She starts an entire rebellion just to save her sister. She is the object of affection for two completely different men—Peeta and Gale—and doesn’t take anyone’s shit. She is a great, flawed hero.
2) Ellen Ripley: “Get away from her, you bitch!” The lone survivor of the Nostromo—who awakes from her statis 57 years after her original encounter with the HR Giger nightmare aliens only to find out her daughter is dead and, GUESS WHAT, there are more aliens ready to kill her and everyone else. She knows she can’t take on the Alien Queen alone—so she steals a Power Loader suit and kicks the shit of the Alien Queen in it. Then two other less fortunate movies happen (although, Alien: Resurrection isn’t nearly as bad as Alien 3).
1) Buffy Summers: “I'm going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it.” She died twice and saved the world countless times across the seven season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and continues saving the world in the comics. She is the ultimate Strong Female Character. Her boyfriends are more likely to need saving than she is—and even her boyfriends usually are super-powered in some way or another. She is a flawed hero who tries to save the world and everyone she loves at all costs—even if the cost is sacrificing the love of her life or herself. I could write a graduate thesis about why Buffy is such an important character in general, let alone one of the most important/badass female characters in geek-dom. Also, I apologize to everyone who knows me and had already assumed she’d be my number one. I am nothing if not consistent.
Honorable Mentions: Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lilah from Angel, Martha Jones from Doctor Who, Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, Amy Pond from Doctor Who, Dr. Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: TNG, Lt Uhura from Star Trek (the original and the reboot), Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Catwoman from The Dark Knight Rises (and from Batman Returns), Kate from Lost, Danielle Rousseau from Lost, Agent Dana Scully from The X-Files, Dr Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park, Princess Leia from Star Wars, Erin from You're Next, Sarah from The Descent, Laurie Strode from Halloween, Tank Girl, Lee Loo from The Fifth Element, All the clones from Orphan Black, The Charmed sisters from Charmed, and the one that hurt the most to leave off this list—Melinda May from Agents of Shield